Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has announced that the 800,000 civilian Department of Defense (DOD) employees scheduled for furloughs will take only 11 days without pay. This amounts to half the originally planned furlough of 22 days for civilians in the DOD.
While this reduction may keep the DOD operating under budget temporarily, it is not a long-term solution to the Pentagon’s funding problems.
Sequestration has gone into effect, but its effects are still largely unknown. However, the Armed Forces’ service chiefs have begun to describe what is in store under such dramatic reductions. For example, Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno explained that reductions to maintenance and training will put the Army “on the outer edge of acceptable risk for our future force and our ability to meet our National Security Strategy.”
In some cases that involve maintenance work, the furloughs may also directly harm military readiness. Civilian labor within the DOD is a cost-effective way to perform various services such as ship maintenance and clerical work. While exemptions are built into the furloughs for certain services, the DOD and Congress should consider such side effects of massive cuts before they actually have to implement them.
Rather than using Band-Aid fixes to temporarily keep the Pentagon under budget, lawmakers should support the U.S. national security strategy through the legislative process. They can do this through a restored commitment to defense funding but also through finding actual inefficiencies within the DOD instead of across-the-board cuts such as sequestration.
The Heritage Foundation has detailed a number of ways the DOD can be more efficient. By reforming acquisition, health care, and retirement programs, the U.S. military could save hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Such savings could then be reinvested into modernization, which is desperately needed to provide capability for decades into the future.
Furthermore, rather than disproportionally cutting national security, the government should address the real drivers of national debt: entitlement spending. As Heritage’s Saving the American Dream plan argues, “Annual spending on entitlement programs is massive compared to other federal spending priorities. Cutting discretionary spending is a necessary step, but cuts to foreign aid alone or pulling out of Afghanistan will not close the de?cit. Entitlement spending must be reined in.”
Sequestration has already hit, but it’s not too late for Congress and the government to make a commitment to provide for the common defense.